Recently, Tony Blair made the rounds of the Gulf countries and Egypt, all of which are ruled by autocratics, none of which have working parliaments, not to speak of bills of rights, free presses and the lot – and he addressed them as a Democratic coalition, urging them to take on tyrannical Iran. It is rather like mistaking a hyena for a goldfish to call Saudi Arabia democratic, but the nonsense spewed out by our rulers everyday does have the purpose of creating such a thick layer of cognitive dissonance that discussion of the reality of American foreign policy, including those of its adjuncts, like the U.K., are impossible to hold.
With this in mind, let’s look at the Washington Post article. First, of course, there is the headline: “For Cloaked Saudi Women, Color Is the New Black”. Already we have that American favorite, the mixture of fashion trend and politics. To get to the mythical substrate we should, as Barthes once did, look at the structure in terms of what can and cannot be substituted, and what the substitutes would be. The best substitute here would, of course, be Iranian. If the title read, “For Cloaked Iranian Women, Color Is the New Black”, we know that the tone would be: rejection by the great mass of the good Iranian people of the terrible oppression of the mad mullahs. A problem would be, of course, that the clothing code required by the Saudis is, of course, much much more oppressive than the Iranian dress code. Here’s a little film clip of a documentary about Saudi women:
Here’s a little film clip of pics of Iranian women. You will notice that the dress code is widely various. Now, this isn’t an argument that the lesser dress code isn’t oppressive, but that the Iranian code is much less oppressive than that effected by our ‘democratic’ ally, Saudi Arabia. In fact, there is another documentary out there I haven’t seen concerning six women who signed up to run for the presidency in Iran in 2001. It is at this site. That you can actually run for the presidency in Iran, unlike Egypt or Saudi Arabia, has to be overlooked as the U.S. battles for democracy in the Middle East.
These grafs set the tone of the story of the new, swingin’ Saudi Arabia:
“Saudi women have long been known in the West for their all-enveloping black attire, widely considered a mark of their oppression. But Sharif and Fageeh are among a growing number of women and girls here who are rethinking and reinventing the abaya to more closely reflect their personalities and religious beliefs.
The change is most striking in Jiddah, the kingdom's most cosmopolitan city, where many young women now wear their head scarves around their shoulders and leave their abayas open to reveal pants and T-shirts. Medical students here often forgo the abaya altogether, frequenting malls and coffee shops in brightly colored head scarves and white knee-length lab coats over jeans.
Abayas with patches of fluorescent color, floral patterns, animal prints, embroidery and even zodiac signs have started to show up in other cities as well, prompting clerics to criticize the trend and reiterate that abayas were meant to deflect attention, not attract it.”
The “growing numbers” is a popular form of journalism numerology. It alludes to the quantifiable, always the brand for fact, tm, without really being exactly quantification. In other words, there is a trend, but the trend is in the eye of the beholder.
Now, if the substitution of Teheran for Jiddah was made, then we know that the structure here, would respond by fronting the third paragraph. “The change is most striking in Teheran, where clerics have been criticizing and threatening to put in place measures to curb these newfound freedoms…” But not in the kinda free swinging city of Jiddah. In fact, the Post goes out on the limb and tells us:
“Until several years ago, members of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, the enforcement arm of the Wahhabi establishment, patrolled streets and malls with sticks, making sure that women were properly veiled, that men and women who were not related did not mingle and that stores closed during prayer times. But the committee's influence has waned since the Sept. 11 attacks, and its bearded members are rarely seen in Jiddah these days”.
Is that impressive or what? And is it – true or what? The Promotion of Vice patrols are rarely seen on the streets of Jiddah these days? Well, it is interesting that this comes on the same day as this news item:
“RIYADH, 28 May 2007 — The president of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, Sheikh Ibrahim Al-Ghaith, said yesterday that several suspects from the Riyadh commission were being questioned by authorities regarding the alleged beating to death of a Saudi citizen last Wednesday. “The Commission for Investigation and Public Prosecution as well as the Governorate of Riyadh are still investigating the matter,” Al-Ghaith said. He did not give the number of suspects from the virtue commission who are being interrogated. Several newspapers have reported that as many as eight are being investigated.
The Governorate of Riyadh issued a press statement yesterday about the alleged murder. It said that it had received information from the commission that the deceased, Sulaiman Al-Huraisi, was selling alcohol from his apartment. The statement also said that authorization had been given to the local police and the commission to raid the house according to regulations.”
But that is Riyadh, kinda not so swinging. Which is why this story, with its Riyadh location, can also be ignored:
“RIYADH, 28 May 2007 — Maj. Gen. Ali Al-Harithy, the director general of prisons, said yesterday that prisoners in the Kingdom were not tortured or beaten on a large scale, and that beatings were “individual cases,” which should not be generalized.
Al-Harithy was referring to a report released last week by the National Society for Human Rights (NSHR) in Saudi Arabia. “Regulations, directives and the constitution state clearly that there should not be any violations against prisoners. ... There are, however, individual mistakes, but that rarely happens. And if it does happen, then prisoner rights are fulfilled by punishing offenders,” he said.
In its first report on human rights in Saudi Arabia, the NSHR said some people remain in prison even after they have completed their term. It said in some cases inmates were beaten or tortured for confessions and sometimes they missed appeal court hearings because prison authorities forgot to remind them.
Al-Harithy criticized visits by foreign human rights groups to the Kingdom, which recently included prison visits by Human Rights Watch. “We do not need foreign organizations to come here and teach our sons and daughters human rights. We are obliged to protect human rights by ourselves without anyone coming from outside and implying that we have to care about human rights in ‘the land of humanity’,” he said.”
So untrendy! And here is an interview with Sheikh Ibrahim Al-Ghaith, the head of the Vice Commission, who gives us insight into the liberal, free, swingin’ Saudi Arabia with answers to questions like this:
“Q: What is your position on families going out together?
A: We always request restaurants and recreation area managers that they have separate areas for men and women, or separate areas for women and their children and other separate areas for men alone. Or that a place be designed where a family, women members and male members who are mahrams (brothers, sons, uncles) can sit alone. As for different families sitting together with mixed men and women, who are non-mahrams, then this is the basis of corruption.
Q: What is the commission doing to catch sorcerers in Saudi cities. And what is their fate after they are caught? Could you tell us how many of them were caught this year and their locations? And what about the magic spells that are thrown into the Red Sea? How are these spells broken?
A: The commission plays a large role in capturing people who practice sorcery or delusions since these are vices which affect the faith of Muslims and cause harm to both nationals and expatriates. The commission has assigned centers in every city and town to be on the lookout for these men. As for their fate, they are arrested and then transferred to concerned authorities. The commission also has a role in breaking magic spells, which are found in the sea. We cooperate with divers in this aspect. After the spells are found, they are then broken using recitations of the Holy Qur’an. We do not use magic to break magic spells, as this is against the teachings of Islam as mentioned by the Supreme Ulema. But we use the Qur’an as did the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).”
Luckily, questions and answers like that will never clutter up the Post, which would check with the Saudi Embassy just to make sure that such things never really are at issue in trendy, democratic, reformist Saudi Arabia - now with better privatizations than ever before! It has better things to do. Like urging the tough line on Iran, the center of deadly, deadly UN-democracy in the Middle East. We just can’t tolerate that. America is, after all, a benign hegemon.